India created but missed a whole host of chances as hosts United Arab Emirates emerged with a 2-0 win in their Group A encounter at the AFC Asian Cup in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
Khaflan Mubarak (41’) and Ali Ahmed Mabkhout (88’) scored towards the end of each half to send UAE to the top of the group, with India moving down to second spot, level on points with Thailand who defeated Bahrain 1-0 in the other fixture on the day.
After UAE started on the front foot in the opening two minutes, India had a glut of chances but did not convert them. The hosts then pounced on a defensive lapse late in the first half from India to score with their first shot on target. The second half saw India hit the crossbar twice but a late goal by the hosts meant they emerged with the full three points.
Constantine started the match with the same line-up that won 4-1 against Thailand. The hosts UAE started the match under some pressure after their controversial draw in the opening game against Bahrain.
Less than 120 seconds into the match and UAE asked a few questions of the Indian defence, who were hanging on at the beginning after a bright start by the hosts.
India grew into the game though with Udanta Singh and Pritam Kotal combining well down the right flank to force a corner, first of the match. Sandesh Jhingan headed over the top from that to spurn a decent chance.
Then came the first big chance for India in the 11th minute. Sunil Chhetri, captain on the night, put Aashique Kuruniyan through on goal. His left-footed shot was palmed over by the UAE goalkeeper Eisa Bilal.
Chhetri, in the 22nd minute, did brilliantly in the box to make space for himself for a free header to a delightful Anirudh Thapa cross from the right. It was a powerful effort, headed on target but hit straight at Eisa. Chhetri had his hands on his face and you could see that was a big miss.
UAE then got their composure back and started playing balls behind India’s defence and not to the feet of their forwards. In the 41st minute, Mubarak made a brilliant run from deep to latch on to a square ball, and fired past Gurpreet across the goal. It was a fine finish but India’s defence paid for miscommunication between Anas Edathodika and Jhingan.
Chhetri went close again at the end of the half, when the angle seemed against him but he put a shot inches wide off the far post.
Jeje Lalpekhlua came on for Narzary to start the second half in what was an attacking move by Constantine. The Chennaiyin FC forward went close with a toe-poke, then was involved in a lovely give and go with Udanta and Chhetri to release the former down the right, whose powerful shot rattled the crossbar.
From there on though, UAE managed the game well and made the most of the tiring defence at the end. Mabkhout latched on to a ball over the defence and slotted one past Gurpreet to put the came past India.
India managed to hit the crossbar late, but the night ended in frustration for Chhetri and Co.
Thailand bounced back from their defeat to India by beating Bahrain 1-0 to leave the group tantalisingly poised ahead of the final set of games on January 14.
Results from the Asian Cup on Thursday:
United Arab Emirates 2 (Mubarak 41, Mabkhout 88) India 0
Bahrain 0 Thailand 1 (Chanathip 58)
Jordan 2 (Suleiman 26, Khattab 43) Syria 0